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Church in the doghouse

Just like in politics, numbers matter in the church. As much as the COVID-19 pandemic has put so many commercial entities in the red, the church in Botswana has not escaped the wrath either. These glaring similarities between the church and world have pushed the former beyond limits and now there is a bone to pick with government.

Just last week, President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi met with men of the cloth, a jaw-jaw that precipitated a decision to increase the number of congregants per church service from 75 to 100 in line with the State of Emergency powers and COVID-19 regulations. The decision by the President is an indication that he has a foot in both camps that is the church and COVID-19 Presidential Task Team.

But the church is still not satisfied, with some leaders expressing hard feelings over the bunch that met the President. From the latest decisions, it seems the government will open churches to their full capacity in a pis eye. In any case this position is expressed in black and white through various press statements from the Task team and individual ministries. Government is hell-bent on containing the possible spread of the coronavirus.

For some churches, such as the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) they have leaned on the Hobson choice taking what is offered or nothing at all and they have chosen the latter. The ZCC has also adopted a hush up as per the instruction of its leader, Bishop Lekganyane.

AND HERE ARE THE NUMBERS

A statistical generalisation in Botswana when it comes to church capacities demonstrates thus; St Peters Roman Catholic in Gabane, has a church capacity of 600. In main mall, Christ the King Cathedral Roman Catholic has a capacity of 1300, and in Gaborone West they have close to 1200 capacity.

Eloyi Christian Church in Selibe Phikwe boasts of a 1000 strong membership. On a normal service, The City Angeles Church in Tlokweng has 1500 people attending one service. For Spiritual Healing in Gaborone more than 800 people normally attend in between services; and as for Naledi Church of God in Palapye it has 700 people while Cornelius Apostolic Church has an average attendance of 2000 people in one service. The figures continue to pour in, Olive Church in Metsimotlhabe has more than 2500 members; while Royal Assembly in Gaborone has more than 800 attendees for a normal service. Their membership stands at 1200.

Speaking to this publication, Bishop Raphael Habibo of Assemblies of God confirmed that the 100 per service as recently prescribed is not enough. He pointed out that it would have been better had they been allowed a 200 or 300 ceiling looking at the capacity of various churches around the country.

We are not in a position to take care of the needs of our people. In terms of counselling, ministering and standing with them during challenging times and financially. We have hired different people in church. When services are stopped it means we are not making enough money to pay these people. We hear the governments cry but we need to come up with ways of living with this, he said.

From Bishop Habibos interjection, it is evident that the church has an itching palm for purposes of paying salaries, rent, and general welfare issues. In essence the church is saying the 100 capacity command remains in the clouds, it is far from addressing the realities they face.

From the figures shared, it is evident that the church has a Midas touch but the Presidential Task Team on COVID-19 remains in the drivers seat hence the churchs itching palm may be satisfied in a coons age!

While some church leaders agree that the churches do not need to be opened to the brim, they still shoot down the 100 members cap. They argue that they have enough space to adhere to COVID-19 protocols should their numbers be increased to 200 or 300.

The church says it is not only money that will ensure that they keep head above the water. There is a claim that by limiting the number of people may attend church services, emotional strain and depression are taking a toll on citizens. Faith thought leaders also attempt to link emerging worries such as Gender Based Violence and suicides to restrained spiritual interactions. While there is yet to be empirical data to full-proof these assertions as gospel truth, the churchs campaign for more numbers remains just a grasp at straws.

The church is also worried that certain decisions by the Presidential Task team appear to swim against the tide. They cite opening of borders, buses loading full capacity, tourism industrys leisure travels, and a litany of decisions only explained by the idiom, smoke and mirrors.

CHURCH MEMBERS ARE DEPRESSED

A lot of people have been stressed and depressed by this season. Having to live with the fear of the chance of contacting the virus or a loved one or colleague being positive is too much. It is at this point that we need to have a closer relationship with God to pray; to be in church and as we sing, we create an atmosphere of hope. People lost their jobs, businesses and for some it will take months if not years to recover.

We have even seen a rise in gender based violence – I would even think its indirectly connected to this pandemic. An affected mind facing a situation that is heavy and cant take it anymore will just lose it and misbehave, said the President of Royal Assembly Ministries, Boago Ramogapi.

I wish the government could do Capacity Seating while still adhering to COVID-19 regulations of masks and distance between seats. In that case, a building that normally seats 1000 people will be able to take 500 people – there will still be space between the people and strict compliance on masks and sanitising, he said.

He further highlighted that challenges arose amid the pandemic within the church and the main one was that many people were losing themselves and feeling helpless because they do not have the opportunity to go to church – a place that has an atmosphere to encounter, inspire and vibe peace of mind.

On top of that, lets understand that churches are run by the free will offerings of the congregants. Most of the time the offerings are taken when people have congregated. Discussing with some Pastors I discovered that many churches have had serious financial challenges – those renting places of worship, staff members to pay salaries and their usual outreaches to the less privileged were affected. We have banking online platforms to make transactions but they have not yet penetrated that much on the church sphere where people send their contributions to the church accounts, he said.

When quizzed on the stand of the Ministry regarding the opening of churches, the Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs, Anna Mokgethi said;

There is no silence at all. My Ministry has been engaged with faith leaders on the issue of increasing the number of attendees at church services. They have made their submissions to the Ministry on a number of occasions and we agreed on the submissions to be made to the Task Force team. Consultations are ongoing.

At yesterday’s COVID-19 Task Force meeting it was agreed that consultations should be concluded and submissions should be presented this coming Monday and a final decision be made.But from the black and white issued by various Government agencies, capacity seating for churches will come in a month of Sundays!

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Botswana still weighing in on Maseko’s assassination

27th January 2023

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Lemogang Kwape says Botswana has not taken any position regarding the killing of a renowned human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, who was gunned down at his house in Mbabane, Eswatini.

In a brief interview with WeekendPost, Dr Kwape said Botswana has not yet taken any position regarding his death. He said the purported incident should be thoroughly probed before Botswana can form an opinion based on the findings of the inquiries.

“Botswana generally condemns any killing of human life by all means,” says Dr. Kwape. He wouldn’t want to be dragged on whether Botswana will support the suspension of Eswatini from SADC.

“We will be guided by SADC organ Troika if they can be an emergency meeting. I am not sure when the meeting will be called by Namibian president,“ he said.

However, the Namibian president Hage Geingob notes with deep concern reports coming out of Eswatini about the killing of Mr. Maseko. In a statement, he called upon the “Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini to ensure that the killing of Maseko is swiftly, transparently and comprehensively investigated, and that any or all persons suspected of committing this heinous crime are brought to justice.”

Maseko was chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum which was established as a coalition of non-State actors to advocate for a process of national political dialogue aimed at resolving the security and political challenges confronting the Kingdom.

“SADC expresses its deepest and heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr. Maseko, his friends, colleagues, and to the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini for the loss of Mr. Maseko. In this context, SADC further calls upon the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini to remain calm, exercise due care and consideration whilst the appropriate structures conduct the investigations and bring the matter to completion,” the statement says.

Geingob reiterated the need for peaceful resolution of the political and security challenges affecting the country.

Meanwhile political activists are calling on SADC to suspend Eswatini from the block including the African Union as well.

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Kopong Murder: Accused interferes with witnesses again!

27th January 2023

State prosecutor, Seeletso Ookeditse revealed before the Broadhurst Magistrate Jobbie Moilatshimo that the third accused involved in the murder of Barulaganye Aston, has interfered with the State witnesses again.

The second and third accused (Lefty Kosie and Outlwile Aston) were previously accused of interference when they were caught in possession of cellphones in prison. They were further accused of planning to kill the deceased’s brother, who is currently the guardian to the children of the deceased.

Ookeditse indicated that Outlwile had earlier went to challenge the magistrate’s decision of denying him bail at the High Court before Judge Michael Motlhabi.

“The third accused approached the High Court and made a bail application, which was dismissed on the same day,” Ookeditse said.

However, even after the High Court verdict on their bail application, the duo (Kosie and Aston) has once again applied for bail this week.

Ookeditse plead with the court to stop the accused from abusing the court process.

“Yesterday, Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) received papers of his bail application filed before the Broadhurst Magistrates Court. However, the papers do not speak to changed circumstances, therefore this back and forth about bail must be put to a stop,” said the State prosecutor.

While giving evidence before court, the Investigations Officer, Detective Inspector Quite Zhalamonto, said his investigations have proved that there is interference continuing regarding the accused trio.

He told the court that on the 12th of January 2023, he received a report from Thato Aston, who is the son of the accused and the deceased. The son had alleged to the Investigation Officer that he received a call from one Phillip Molwantwa.

According to Zhalamonto, Thato revealed that Molwatwa indicated that he was from prison on a visit to the Outlwile Aston and went on to ask where he was staying and where his siblings (Aston’s children) are staying.

“Thato revealed that Phillip went on to ask if he or his siblings saw their father murdering their mother, and he was referring to the crime scene. Thato told me that he, however, refused to answer the questions as he was afraid especially because he was asked about where him and his siblings stay,” said Zhalamonto.

Zhalamonto alluded to the court that he then went to Orange to confirm the communication between Thato and Molwantwa where he found the case.

“I have arrested Philip yesterday and when I interviewed him, he did not deny that he knows Aston and that he has indeed called Thato and asked questions as to where him and his siblings resides even though he failed to give reasons for asking such questions,” Zhalamonto told the court.

He further revealed that Molwantwa indicated that he had received a call from an unknown man who refused to reveal himself.

“Phillip told me that the unknown man said he was sent by the accused (Aston), and that Aston had instructed him to tell me to check if there was still some money in his bank accounts, and he also wanted to know where the kids were residing, the unknown man even asked him to meet at Main Mall” the Investigation Officer told the court.

He further informed the court that he is working tirelessly to identify the “unknown caller” and the route of the cell number.

Furthermore, the fourth accused, Kebaleboge Ntsebe, has revealed to the court through a letter that she was abused and tortured by the Botswana Police Services. She wrote in her letter that she suffered miscarriage as a result of being beaten by the police.

Ntsebe is on bail, while a bail ruling for Aston and Kosie will be delivered on the 6th of next month

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Ngamiland Cattle Farmers Gain Green Zone Revenue

27th January 2023

Cattle farmers from Eretsha and Habu in the Ngamiland district, supported by the Community Based Trade (CBT) project, recently generated over P300 000.00 for sales of 42 cattle to the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) in Maun. This milestone was achieved through support from various stakeholders in conservation, commodity-based trade and the government, in collaboration with farmers. Ordinarily, these farmers would not have made this direct sale since the area is a designated Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Red Zone.

Traditional livestock farming contributes toward livelihoods and formal employment in the North-West District (Ngamiland) of Botswana. However, primarily due to the increase in FMD outbreaks over the past two decades and predation by wildlife, the viability of livestock agriculture as a source of income has declined in the region. This has led to a greater risk of poverty and food insecurity. Access across the Okavango River (prior to the construction of a bridge) restricted access for farmers in Eretsha. This lack of access hampered sales of cattle beyond Shakawe, further discouraging farmers from investing in proper livestock management practices. This resulted in negative environmental impacts, poor livestock health and productivity.

To address this challenge, farmers are working with a consortium led by Conservation International (CI), with funding secured from the European Union (EU) to pilot a CBT beef project. The project focuses on supporting and enabling communal farmers to comply with standards and regulations that will improve their chances to access markets. An opportunity to earn higher income from cattle sales could incentivize the adoption of restorative rangelands management practices by farmers.

These collaborative efforts being piloted in Habu and Eretsha villages also include the Pro-Nature Enterprises Project for the People of Southern Africa, funded by Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and Le Fonds français pour l’environnement mondial (FFEM). This complementary funding from AFD and FFEM supports the implementation of the Herding4Health (H4H) model and Rangeland Stewardship Agreements across four rangeland sites in Southern Africa, including Habu and Eretsha, to incentivize best practices that could offer sustainability in the long term for livelihoods, conservation and human-wildlife coexistence.

“We spend a lot of money getting our cattle to Makalamabedi quarantine site, the herder spends on average two months taking care of the cattle before they are taken into quarantine – that needs money. All these costs lead to us getting less money from BMC,” said one of the farmers in the programme, Mr Monnaleso Mosanga.

Farmers that participate in the project agree for their cattle to be herded and kraaled communally by fulltime professional herders (eco-rangers). At the core of this pilot is the use of predator-proof bomas (cattle kraals), planned grazing systems and mobile quarantine bomas (electrified enclosures) for the cattle, facilitated in support with the Department of Veterinary Services. The first successful exit from the mobile quarantine bomas in the Habu and Eretsha villages, in December 2022, saw cattle quarantined on-site and directly transported to BMC in Maun. Farmers received almost double the average sales within this region, as costs including transportation to quarantine sites, herder’s fees and other associated costs incurred before qualifying for BMC sales were no longer included.

“This pilot mobile quarantine is leveraging the techniques and protocols we are using at our current permanent quarantine sites, and we are still observing the results of the project. The outcome of this pilot will be presented to the World Organisation of Animal Health to assess its effectiveness and potentially be approved to be used elsewhere,” said Dr Odireleng Thololwane, the Principal Veterinary Officer (Maun).

Through co-financing of almost P1 billion from the Botswana government and Green Climate Fund, these interventions will be replicated, through The Ecosystem Based Adaptation and Mitigation in Botswana’s Communal Rangelands project, across the country. Both projects aim to improve the economic benefits of cattle owners and multitudes of Batswana households, while contributing to land restoration and climate change efforts by the Botswana government

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